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Loss to West Indies reveals a chink in India's armor

Last updated on 30 Jul 2023 | 05:33 AM
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Loss to West Indies reveals a chink in India's armor

India want to choke the opposition with spin but they need to ensure they can play it well enough themselves

When the schedule for the 2023 ODI World Cup was announced, reports from The Indian Express revealed that the BCCI consulted the Indian team to seek their preferences for the matches. According to the sources, the Men in Blue requested the BCCI to assign fixtures against Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa at venues that favor spinners.

“The Indian team has performed well on slow tracks in the past few years at home. So the team management had requested that whenever the schedule is being prepared the Indian team should face top teams on slow pitches. They wanted to have a home advantage,” the BCCI source explained. 

Now, if you look at the overall record, India hold excellent numbers while batting against spin. Be it post 2020, 2021, 2022 or in 2023 only, the Indian batting unit continue to master the spinners of the opposition. 

However, that is only half the picture. When playing on extremely spin friendly surfaces, India batting also comes crashing down. A shade of it was visible in India’s shocking defeat in the second ODI versus West Indies. Over the last two months, the Windies have hit their nadir, losing to Zimbabwe, Scotland and Netherlands, which resulted in their ouster from the World Cup before the first ball is bowled in the tournament. 

It was not even an extremely spin friendly track at the Kensington Oval, Barbados. Only four of the 10 wickets that fell during India’s innings were taken by spinners - Gudakesh Motie and Yannic Cariah. It was a slow-ish pitch where the duo picked 4/61 in their 14.4 overs combined. Motie had figures of 9.5-0-36-3. 

In the first ODI as well, which had a lot more in it for the spinners, Motie’s 2/26 at less than four runs per over ensured the Men in Blue have a few hiccups on their way to a paltry target of 115. 

And now you turn on the knob in terms of aid for spinners. You don’t have to rewind much. 

It was India’s last ODI before this series - the three ODIs against Australia - where they lost the series-decider in Chennai in March. Playing with a near full-strength team, India were bowled out for 248 while chasing 270. Adam Zampa snapped 4/45 and Ashton Agar pouched 2/41. In December 2022, the Bangladeshi spinners spun a web around Indian batters. 

India have beefed up their numbers by pasting spinners on pitches that have had little to no assistance for the slower bowlers, like you find in New Zealand, Australia and many venues in India itself. Since the 2019 World Cup, the Indian team average 46.9 against spin. But this number falls considerably at venues that have been spin-friendly for the last four years at least. 

There is a drop at each of the aforementioned venues and the difference is significant in multiple cases. 

This period coincides with a time when India’s returns at home in Test cricket are also low. Between 2016 and 2019, India averaged 53.7 against spin in home conditions. 2020 onwards, it has fallen to 27.9. Almost everyone is prone to slow bowling in some way. And the same is the case in ODIs too. 

Shubman Gill is known to be a great player of spin bowling but he struggles to score freely in the spin-friendly venues mentioned above. Ravindra Jadeja falls in the same zone with average and strike-rate dropping to 26 and 69.3 respectively when the surface is demanding. Hardik Pandya is not great either while Suryakumar Yadav has simply not understood the assignment of playing spin in general. 

While some drop is explicable in tough conditions, these numbers are startling. 

Virat Kohli holds an impressive average of 44.8 in these circumstances. However, since 2022, he has been dismissed seven times by left-arm orthodox spinners, averaging only 14.6. A sign of a clear weakness. With Motie on song, it is tough to say that Kohli’s presence would have made a big difference for India at Kensington Oval. 

Shreyas Iyer and Sanju Samson are the only batters without any evident weakness against spin. Considering the team dynamics, Iyer’s return from injury before the World Cup becomes essential for India. 

India’s expected full strength XI for the World Cup includes a right-handed heavy batting line-up. On turning tracks, the World Cup hosts will be susceptible to slow bowlers who turn the ball away from the right-handers - leg-spinners and left-arm spinners. It has been a common theme across India’s last three spin debacles - Motie, Zampa, Agar and Shakib. 

Hence, playing on turning tracks is a double-edged sword that can prove to be a shot in the foot. India are scheduled to play Australia in Chennai and England in Lucknow. Australia would love to unleash the pair of Zampa and Agar again while England will have Adil Rashid. 

When India won the World Cup at home in 2011, they had free-flowing players of spin bowling in Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir to name a few. The current batch doesn’t have enough of such batters. The defeat against West Indies is thus a wake-up call. India want to choke the opposition with spin. But they need to ensure they can play it well enough themselves.

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